Pennsylvania State Coroners Association

PA Laws Empowering, Defining and Limiting the Power of the Coroner

1237 - Coroner's Investigations
1239 - Sudden Deaths Defined
1231 - Deputies
1232 - Duties with Respect to County Morgue
1233 - Removal of Bodies
1234 - Ambulance
1235 - Unclaimed Property of Deceased
1236 - Private Morgues
1236.1 Requests for Examinations and Reports
1238 - Autopsy; Inquest; Records
1240 - Bodies Not to be Moved
1241 - Release of Coroner's Jurisdiction
1242 - Cooperation with District Attorney
1244 - Certificate of Cause of Death
1245 - Power of Subpoena and Attachment
1245.1 Inquests; Juries
1246 - Power to Adminster Oaths
1247 - Committment to County Prison
1248 - Inquests Not Public
1251 - Official Records of the Coroner
1252 - Solicitor to Coroner
1253 - Anatomical Gifts
9525.5 - Continuing Education

Back to Top

SECTION 1237 - CORONER'S INVESTIGATIONS                                

(a) The coroner having a view of the body shall investigate the facts and circumstances concerning deaths which appear to have happened within the county, regardless where the cause thereof may have occurred, for the purpose of determining whether or not an autopsy should be conducted or an inquest thereof should be had, in the following cases:

(1) sudden deaths not caused by readily recognizable disease, or wherein the cause of death cannot be properly certified by a physician on the basis of prior (recent) medical attendance;

(2) deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances, including those where alcohol,  drugs or other toxic substances may have had a direct bearing on the outcome;

(3) deaths occurring as a result of violence or trauma, whether apparently homicidal, suicidal or accidental (including, but not limited to, those due to mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or radiational injury, drowning, cave-ins and subsidences);

(4) any death in which trauma, chemical injury, drug overdose or reaction to drugs or medication or medical treatment was a primary or secondary, direct or indirect, contributory, aggravating or precipitating cause of death;

(5) operative and peri-operative deaths in which the death is not readily explainable on the basis of prior disease;

(6) any death wherein the body is unidentified or unclaimed;

(7) deaths known or suspected as due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard;

(8) deaths occurring in prison or a penal institution or while in the custody of the police;

(9) deaths of persons whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea or otherwise disposed of so as to be thereafter unavailable for examination;

(10) sudden infant death syndrome; and

(11) stillbirths.

(b) The purpose of the investigation shall be to determine the cause of any such death and to determine whether or not there is sufficient reason for the coroner to believe that any such death may have resulted from criminal acts or criminal neglect of persons other than the deceased.

(c) As part of this investigation, the coroner shall determine the identity of the deceased and notify the next of kin of the deceased.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 3

Back to Top


The coroner shall regard any death as sudden if it occurs without prior medical attendance by a person who may lawfully execute a certificate of death in this Commonwealth, or if, within twenty four hours of death, the decedent was discharged from such medical attendance or a change of such medical attendance had occurred, or if any such medical attendance began within twenty-four hours of death and the medical attendant refuses or is unable to certify the cause of death. Medical attendance includes hospitalization. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to affect the coroner's discretion as to whether or not any death was suspicious, nor shall they be construed to authorize a coroner to investigate a sudden death any further than necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 3

Back to Top

SECTION 1231 - DEPUTIES               

The coroner may appoint one or more deputies to act in his place and stead, as he may deem proper and necessary. Such deputy or deputies shall have the same powers as the coroner.

As amended 1973, June 27, P.L. 72, No. 31, Sec. 1

Back to Top


The coroner of each county in which a county morgue is established, shall make general rules and regulations for its government and control, and shall appoint suitable persons for each morgue so established to have charge of the same, and who shall be removable at the pleasure of the coroner. The number of such persons and the salary of each shall be fixed by the salary board.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1231

Back to Top


Whenever the body of any deceased person who is unidentified or which body is unclaimed by proper persons has been found within the county, it shall be removed to the county morgue or to a private morgue serving in lieu thereof. The coroner shall, if he deems it necessary, cause any such body to be properly embalmed or prepared for preservation for such length of time as he may think proper. Any such body shall be examined or inspected only by such persons as the coroner authorizes in writing, or who are admitted in his presence. No such body shall be removed from any such morgue except upon the certificate of the coroner.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1233

Back to Top

SECTION 1234 - AMBULANCE             

In each county, the county commissioners may furnish and maintain, from the general funds of the county, an ambulance for the removal of bodies of deceased persons to and from the morgue, and for the burial of unclaimed bodies. The coroner may provide rules and regulations for the use and maintenance of the ambulance.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 1

Back to Top

SECTION 1235 - UNCLAIMED PROPERTY OF DECEASED                                        

(a) The coroner shall safely keep in his charge all personal effects and property which appear to have been on or about the person at the time of his death, or being found on any decedent whose body is received at the county morgue or at any other morgue sserving in lieu thereof, and all such effects and property which are delivered to him according to law. The coroner shall hold such property for one year, unless sooner claimed by legal representatives of the deceased, or otherwise duly and lawfully claimed or disposed of.

(b) After one year, the coroner shall cause such property remaining unclaimed, or so much thereof as remains undisposed of according to law, except moneys and such properties as securities which may not be subject to such a sale, which shall be turned over to the commissioners for proper disposition or use, to be sold at public sale.

(c) Notice of any such public sale shall be published in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the county once a week for three successive weeks. The proceeds of all such sales shall be paid immediately into the county treasury, and the coroner shall make a written report thereof to the county commissioners, under oath, at the same time. If the body has been buried at the expense of the institution district, the county shall pay the proceeds of sale, or such property as was not subject to sale, as hereinbefore provided, less costs, over to the institution district. The forgoing provisions shall be in lieu of escheat to the Commonwealth.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1235

Back to Top


In any county where a county morgue is not maintained, the coroner may cause any body which he is authorized to admit to a county morgue to be removed to a private morgue within the county, and, for the use thereof, the owner shall be paid a sum to be established by the salary board, to be paid in the same manner as fees of coroner's jurors are paid.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1236

Back to Top


(a) Requests for examination or other professional service by other counties or persons may be complied with at the discretion of the coroner pursuant to guidelines established by the county commissioners.

(b) A set of fees and charges for such examinations or professional services shall be established by the coroner, subject to approval by the county commissioners, and shall be accounted for and paid to the county treasurer pursuant to section 1760. Payment for examinations or professional services shall be the responsibility of the county or person requesting such services.

(c) The coroner may charge and collect a fee of up to one hundred dollars ($100) for each autopsy report, up to fifty dollars ($50) for each toxicology report, up to fifty dollars ($50) for each inquisition or coroner's report and such other fees as may be established from time to time for other reports and documents requested by non-governmental agencies. The fees collected shall be accounted for and paid to the county treasurer pursuant to section 1760 and shall be used to defray the expenses involved in the county complying with the provisions of the act of March 2, 1988 (P.L. 108, No. 22), referred to as the Coroners' Education Board Law.

1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec.2

Back to Top


(a) If, upon investigation, the coroner shall be unable to  determine the cause and manner of death, he shall perform or order an autopsy on the body.

(b) If the coroner is unable to determine the cause and manner of death following the autopsy, he may conduct an inquest upon a view of the body, as provided by law. At the inquest, the coroner's duty shall be to ascertain the cause of death, to determine whether any person other than the deceased was criminally responsible therefore by act or neglect, and if so, the identity of the person, and to examine any further evidence and witnesses regarding the cause of death.

(c) The proceedings at the inquest shall be recorded, at the expense of the county, in a manner to be provided by the county commissioners.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29,P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 3

Back to Top


In all cases where the coroner has jurisdiction to investigate the facts and circumstances of death, the body and its surroundings shall be left untouched until the coroner has had a view thereof or until he shall otherwise direct or authorize, except as may be otherwise provided by law, or as circumstances may require. Bodies upon a public thoroughfare or in other places may be removed so much as is necessary for precaution against traffic accidents or other serious consequences which might reasonably be anticipated if they were left intact.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 3

Back to Top

SECTION 1241 - RELEASE OF CORONER'S JURISDICTION                                    

Whenever the coroner assumed jurisdiction of a body pursuant to the provisions of this subdivision or of any other law, the body shall not be released or removed from his jurisdiction except upon his direction and consent, in accordance with law.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1241

Back to Top

SECTION 1242 - COOPERATION WITH DISTRICT ATTORNEY                                     

In the exercise of his duties as contained in this subdivision, the coroner shall, so far as may be practicable, consult and advise with the district attorney. The district attorney shall act as counsel to the coroner in matters relating to inquests.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1242

Back to Top

SECTION 1244 - CERTIFICATE OF CAUSE OF DEATH                                               

The coroner shall issue a certificate of cause of death in all cases referred to him by the local registrar of vital statistics, pursuant to the provisions of the act, approved June twenty-nine, one thousand nine hundred fifty-three (Pamphlet Laws 304), known as the Vital Statistics Law of 1953", and in all other cases of which he has jurisdiction, if no person duly authorized by the said act certifies the cause of death.

As amended 1961, May 9, P.L. 197, Sec. 1

Back to Top

SECTION 1245 - POWER OF SUBPOENA AND ATTACHMENT                                     

The coroner shall have power to issue subpoenas to obtain the attendance of any person whom it may be necessary to examine as a witness at any inquest, and to compel attendance by attachment in like manner and to the same extent as any court of common pleas of this Commonwealth may or can do in cases pending before them, and also to compel in like manner the production of all papers and other things relative to such inquest. Such subpoena and attachment shall be served and executed by the sheriff or by the coroner himself or his deputy, as the case may require.

As amended 1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec.

Back to Top


(a) The coroner may at his discretion summon a jury of six to be selected from the jury panels of the court of common pleas.

(b) The function of such jury shall be to determine the manner of death and
whether any criminal act or neglect of persons known or unknown caused such death. Such jury shall be paid as provided by law as if they were serving the court of common pleas.

1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602,No. 152, Sec. 4

Back to Top


The coroner shall have power to administer oaths and affirmations to all persons brought or appearing before him, and any person swearing or affirming falsely on such examination shall be guilty of perjury.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1246

Back to Top

SECTION 1247 - COMMITMENT TO COUNTY PRISON                                             

If any person appearing before the coroner for examination shall refuse to take oath or affirmation, or after having been sworn or affirmed shall refuse to make answer to such questions as shall be put to him by the coroner touching the matters of the inquest, such persons so refusing may be committed by the coroner to the county jail by warrant, under his hand and seal, directed to the sheriff or any constable of the county, setting forth particularly the causes of such commitment, until he shall submit to be sworn or affirmed or to make answers to such questions or be otherwise legally discharged.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1247

Back to Top


The coroner may, in his discretion, admit or exclude members of the public from any inquest or part thereof, and admit or exclude any person interested or suspected from such inquest or any part thereof, but this provision shall not apply to representatives of the press. No person excluded may appear by attorney, but any person required to attend may have benefit of counsel at such attendance.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1248

Back to Top

SECTION 1251 - OFFICIAL RECORDS OF CORONER                                          

Every coroner, within thirty (30) days after the end of each year, shall deposit all of his official records and papers for the preceding year in the office of the prothonotary for the inspection of all persons interested therein.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1251

Back to Top


The coroner may appoint one person learned in the law, as his solicitor. Said solicitor shall advise the coroner upon all legal matters that may be submitted to him and shall conduct any litigation in connection with the coroner's office when requested so to do by the coroner.

1955, Aug. 9, P.L. 323, Sec. 1252, added 1972, Dec. 6, P.L. 1421, No. 309, Sec. 1

Back to Top


The coroner may order the removal of parts of a decedent's body for donation purposes in accordance with 20 Pa.C.S. Ch. 86(relating to anatomical gifts).

1990, Nov. 29, P.L. 602, No. 152, Sec. 4

Back to Top


(a) Credit hours. - Every year, every coroner, chief deputy coroner and full-time deputy coroner shall take continuing education of not less than eight credit hours.

(b) Contents. - The board shall determine what courses, seminars, lectures and meetings qualify for credit and the number of credits to be given to each. Such instruction may be given in conjunction with the annual convention of the Coroners Association of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

(c) Proof. - Upon submission of proof of attendance, the board shall determine if the coroner or deputy has fulfilled the continuing educational requirements. If the board determines that the continuing educational requirements have not been fulfilled, it shall notify the Governor in the case of a coroner and the coroner in the case of a deputy, at which time a vacancy shall be deemed to exist. Any coroner or deputy aggrieved by a decision of the board shall have the right to appeal in accordance with the provisions of Title 2 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (relating to administrative law and procedure).

1988, March 2, P.L. 108, No. 22, Sec. 5.